MusicWeb International, October 11, 2011
“she plays with colour, skill and sparkle”
—Simon Thompson, MusicWeb International, October 11, 2011
Elizabeth Hainen (harp)
Bulgarian National Radio Orchestra/Rossen Milanov
rec. June 2007, Studio 1, Bulgarian National Radio, Sofia, Bulgaria
AVIE AV 2221 [67:09]
Elizabeth Hainen is a hugely talented American harpist who has made it her mission on this disc to convince us of the harp as a good instrument for a concerto. How many of us, after all, could name a harp concerto beyond Mozart’s, and even that one has a flute to help it out?
Throughout she plays with colour, skill and sparkle, though her choice of works doesn’t really convince me that there is a whole undiscovered corpus of harp concertos that’s worth seeking out. The weakest is that of Albrechtsberger, a contemporary of Haydn and Mozart but possessing none of their skill for melody or architecture. To my ears his concerto felt more like note-spinning, with plenty of classical refinement but little else. Saint-Saëns’ Concert Piece felt like blessed relief after this. It’s not a masterpiece, and it’s episodic at the best of times, but it’s full of Romantic sweep and excitement, and I enjoyed getting to know it when it was so well played. The real discovery here is the concerto by Parish Alvars, an English composer who made a career in Europe as a harp virtuoso. His concerto is brooding and deeply serious, Schumannesque in its sense of drama with a stormy opening movement and jaunty rondo finale, but the gorgeously sentimental slow movement is unashamedly slushy and provides five minutes of music to wallow in.
Playing and interpretations are very fine throughout, though my only doubt was about the recorded balance which seemed, to my ears, to spotlight the harp somewhat artificially. Still, this disc is worth a punt if you love the harp and you’re keen to try something new – Simon Thompson